Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: April 23

Happy Draft Day. Let's get to it:

PAUL GASSE FROM LAS CRUCES, NM: Thanks for the twice weekly break from it all. I recently watched Super Bowl XIV. Many great memories, and I know Terry Bradshaw was voted MVP. It easily could have gone to John Stallworth, or maybe Franco Harris. While watching the game however, Jack Lambert's name came up again and again, and it seemed as though he was everywhere. His interception near the end of the game was the backbreaker for the Rams. What were his stats for the game, and do you know if he was seriously considered for MVP?
ANSWER: According to the Official NFL Game Book from Super Bowl XIV, Lambert finished the game with 14 tackles and the interception you mentioned that came with the Rams in Steelers territory and looking to cut into or erase what was their 24-19 deficit at the time. An interesting sidebar to that moment: Just before the play, Art Rooney Sr. got up from his seat in the Steelers owners box at the Rose Bowl and started to put on his coat. His son, Dan, saw that and said to him, "What are you doing? The game's not over." Almost immediately after, Lambert intercepted that Vince Ferragamo pass, and father turned to son and said, "It is now."

As for the MVP Award, the events of the game and the timing of those clinched it for Terry Bradshaw, in my view. With 12 minutes left in the game, Bradshaw hooked up with Stallworth for a 73-yard touchdown that erased a 19-17 deficit and gave the Steelers a 24-19 lead. And then after Lambert's interception, on a third-and-7 from the Pittsburgh 33-yard line, Bradshaw threw another perfect pass to Stallworth for a 45-yard gain that ultimately led to Franco Harris' clinching touchdown in the 31-19 final.

FRANK RIZZO FROM TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA: Joe Greene was the first Steelers player to have his number retired. I know there are a bunch of numbers out of circulation, but what jersey number do you think is retired next, and what's the timeline on that?
ANSWER: Actually, Ernie Stautner was the first Steelers player to have his jersey retired, and No. 70 officially went out of circulation on Oct. 25, 1964. Joe Greene was the second Steelers player to have his jersey retired, and there is no timetable for a third. My personal opinion is that I hope there isn't a third.

JOSHUA PEREZ FROM FAWN GROVE, PA: How are we feeling at running back? With James Conner sustaining injuries much of last year, do we still have faith in his abilities as a No. 1 back?
ANSWER: During a video news conference on Monday, Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert were asked, "How important is it for you to find a running back in this draft?" This is how each answered:

TOMLIN: "We've got a lot of needs. There are some top-quality backs in this draft who could help us, but there are also some other positional guys who could help us. We'll let the development (of the picking) do the work for us. If we get an opportunity to add a back who could bring some things to our current pool, we'll be excited about that. We have every intention of running the ball better in 2020 than we did in 2019, whether we add that back or not, and that's just being bluntly honest with you."

COLBERT: "And to add to that, I know that starting the (2020) season, we'll have a healthy James Conner, and we have some other young backs who have all been contributors in the past and there's no reason that they still can't be contributors when healthy. You know, I always go back to the fact James Conner had acute injuries in 2019. In 2018, he avoided that and put up a Pro Bowl season. So he's still a young, ascending player, and when healthy, he's an NFL Pro Bowl player. I know James will enter the season healthy, but you know, can we complement it, and we'll see. But I'm not going in thinking we don't have a starter-capable runner, because I know James Conner is."

BRADLEY DYLL FROM HERMITAGE, PA: Leonard Fournette. How is he not a member of the Steelers? Late-round draft pick as compensation in a trade? Low cap hit. I know the Steelers can get a running back in the draft, but they need to fill holes for backups everywhere. Getting a stud running back before the draft is a no brainer.
ANSWER: Or maybe making a trade for a one-dimensional, malcontent running back would indicate somebody lost his mind. Here's a different scenario, and I'm just spit-balling here: Instead of giving up one of their six draft picks and allocating $4.1 million of cap space on a running back who can become an unrestricted free agent in March 2021, why not draft your own back, who would come cheaper and would have fewer than 1,282 carries on his body than Fournette (college plus three NFL seasons), and then use the cap space on a veteran outside linebacker who could provide depth behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree … say a guy like Clay Matthews. Not saying it's going to happen, but in the area of what's worth pursuing, I see one path being clearly better than the other. You think the Steelers would be better with Fournette or with Matthews? To me, that's a true no-brainer.

DONALD ADAMS FROM RICHMOND, TX: Looking at the upcoming season, the Steelers' opponents have a combined record of 117-139 from last year. Is this the easiest schedule in the NFL this coming season?
ANSWER: The NFL computes strength-of-schedule rankings based solely on the combined won-loss records from the previous season of the upcoming opponents. The holes in this kind of analysis are many and should be obvious, but since that's the way the NFL does it, we'll follow along for the sake of answering this question. The teams with the toughest 2020 schedules, in descending order, are: New England; the New York Jets; Miami; San Francisco; a tie among Buffalo, Detroit, and Atlanta; a tie between Arizona and Houston; Minnesota; and the Los Angeles Rams. The teams with the easiest schedules, in ascending order, are: Baltimore; Pittsburgh; Dallas; Cleveland; Washington; Cincinnati; the New York Giants; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and the Los Angeles Chargers. As an additional note for those who believe one team in a division ends up with a far more difficult, or easier, schedule than the other teams in the same division, notice that among the most difficult schedules are all four teams from the AFC East, and three of the teams from the NFC West; and in the easiest schedule category, you have all four teams from the AFC North, and all four teams from the NFC East. The league's scheduling format generally creates a level playing field for all teams from the same division each season.

TIMOTHY RICHARD FROM SULPHUR, LA: The first time I heard of Matt Canada was when he was hired to be the Steelers quarterbacks coach. With the league leaning toward running quarterbacks, and the Steelers not having the best success in that area, can you shed any light on whether Canada's preference is for pocket passers or running quarterbacks?
ANSWER: I mean this as no disrespect to Matt Canada, but fans need to understand the dynamics, the hierarchy, within an NFL coaching staff. Matt Canada is the quarterbacks coach, which means he coaches the quarterbacks on the roster. He isn't the head coach, and he isn't even the offensive coordinator. By that I mean, he doesn't get to choose the quarterbacks who are drafted/signed to the roster, nor whether the team should use a draft pick on a quarterback vs. using it on another position; he doesn't get to cut quarterbacks from the depth chart when the team goes from a 90-man roster to a 53-man roster; he doesn't get to determine the style of play for the quarterbacks; and he doesn't get to call plays during games. And it's no different with any other position coach. Each of the position coaches work with the players at their respective positions, and their primary job is to make those players better. Again, Mike Tomlin is someone who regularly says that he doesn't care where good ideas come from, and so he is very open to ideas brought to him by anyone and everyone on his staff. But there is a difference between presenting an idea and setting policy.

JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: The Steelers had a running back named Laverne Smith who played while Chuck Noll was coach who was supposed to be very fast. Whatever happened to him?
ANSWER: Laverne Smith came to the Steelers as their second pick in the fourth round of the 1977 NFL Draft. Listed at 5-foot-10, 193 pounds, Smith was a two-sport star in football and track in both high school and college. While in college at Kansas, Smith rushed for a single-season school-record 1,181 yards in 1974, and he finished his three-year career there with 3,192 yards. In 1976, Smith was the Big 8 champion in both the 100 meters and as part of the Jayhawks' 440 relay team. In college, he posted personal bests of 10.29 in the 100 meters and 20.44 in the 200 meters. As a rookie, Smith was a reserve running back and kickoff returner, and in seven games with the Steelers in 1977, Smith averaged 22.8 yards on 16 kickoff returns, and he rushed for 55 yards on 14 carries. On the last of those carries, Smith sustained a broken leg, and he never played another down in the NFL.

MARK SZABO FROM PARLIN, NJ: You mentioned in the April 21 installment of Asked and Answered that Ben Roethlisberger was the first quarterback to be voted the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. But I saw on that a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills won it in 1970. Was that a different award?
ANSWER: There seems to be a discrepancy somewhere. You are correct in that lists Bills quarterback Dennis Shaw as the 1970 winner of the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. But in the 2019 Official National Football League Record & Fact Book (on page 518, by the way), the winner of the 1970 Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year Award is listed as Dallas running back Duane Thomas.

BILL PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: What do you think of our current depth along the defensive line to plug the gap at nose tackle created by Javon Hargrave leaving as an unrestricted free agent? Also, looking back at nose tackle and the evolution of the position, the Steelers have had some great players. Where would you rank Joel Steed?
ANSWER: Since you mentioned the evolution of the nose tackle position, I believe it has undergone another transformation of late in that players there have to be more than two-gap run-stuffers. The best nose tackle in franchise history, for me, was Casey Hampton, and during his playing career he would be replaced in passing situations because the Steelers preferred someone on the field who could get after the quarterback. The ability to generate pressure on the passer from the interior of the defensive line was the reason the Steelers picked Hargrave in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. I don't believe anyone the Steelers might draft this weekend would be ready to play when the 2020 regular season opens, and so the nose tackle position is going to have to be manned by some combination of the players currently on the 90-man roster. Who emerges will be determined on the practice field and during the preseason. As for all-time Steelers nose tackles, I would list Hampton first, followed by Gary Dunn and then Joel Steed.

BRIAN DORNSBACH FROM WOODLAND PARK, CO: A few other teams have introduced new uniforms. Will the Steelers' change anytime soon?
ANSWER: I sure hope not.

JEFFREY MILES FROM MIDDLETOWN, CT: A major news outlet reported Percy Harvin has said he's ready to play in the NFL again after three years off. When he was playing, and healthy, Harvin was a difference-maker with speed, which is something Pittsburgh is looking for right now. What kind of risk do you think a player like Harvin would be IF he would sign for a team-friendly amount of money?
ANSWER: Allow me to put some perceptions into context with facts: Percy Harvin will be 32 years old at the end of May, and as you mention he has been out of football since the end of the 2016 season, one in which he appeared in only two games. His most recent season in which he finished with at least 500 receiving yards was 2012, which is eight years ago. In his NFL career, his longest play from scrimmage was a 53-yard reception, and to put that into context, JuJu Smith-Schuster already has two 97-yard receptions in his three-year career. Maybe Harvin's top skill in the NFL was as a kickoff returner, but the NFL largely has legislated that element out of the game. In conclusion, I would suggest your memory has been tainted by highlights, and the perception of Harvin as a difference-maker has been enhanced by the passage of time, the same passage of time that undoubtedly has eroded the skills that he had in his prime.